Video, not Flash for newspaper reporters

Lumix cameraI was just thinking about this … somebody told me yesterday about a newspaper that spent $20,000 to train about six reporters to become “multimedia storytellers,” meaning they can now get some audio, some pictures and some words and make a slick Flash presentation (at least, we hope it’s slick).

Here’s the thing, building a good Flash story takes hours and hours (depending on the story and the content assets), and has probably less than a 20 percent chance of being a hit with the audience. Whereas a quick video can take very little time to edit, and stands about the same chance of being a hit with the audience.

For $20,000 you could buy more than 50 of these (plus memory cards and carrying cases). In a mid-size newsroom, that it is enough to give one to every reporter, and have 20 or 30 left over to hand out to potential citizen journalists in the community.

That strikes me as a much, much higher ROI.

Not to mention that you’re going to have to buy hardware (visual and audio) for your Flash reporters, anyway.

There can be a time and a place for Flash storytelling, but for the most part, video is a better bet.

[tags]newspapers, video, multimedia, flash[/tags]

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23 thoughts on “Video, not Flash for newspaper reporters

  1. What about Flash as a way to frame and present video, audio, and slideshows?

    What about interactive infographics?

    I think there’s a place for Flash in online news, but yes, video is certainly easier to get started with, requiring nothing but a camera and iMovie.

  2. Yes, Howard. Of course these work – I have been proving it with top editors at journalism conferences around the world.

    Your blog idea is more than hypothetical – I use these cameras in my R&D and are now depoloying them with newspaper groups. (When I configure these kits for editorial field production the cost per unit is more like $500 when you include backup battery and memory cards – but still so cheap and small that they are practically stealth reporter cameras)

    I have used the Lumix that you show here to develop and test self-produced editorial video shorts. Over the past year I have filed from Moscow, Chicago, London, Orlando and refined a workflow and training that makes this a reality for my newspaper clients. In developing ‘video newspaper’ prototpyes I have found that the biggest obstacles in newsrooms now are psychological and cultural. The one thing with these is that you have to be careful with audio. The built-in mic on these units is OK for some types of vids not so usueable for others.

    I have to explain to the publishers and editors I work with that web video is not ‘Televsion.’ It’s 320×240, on-demand, interactive, short-form video. It’s still takes a few hours to properly tag, edit, render and post a tightly-edited 90-second clip but these news films can be engaging when properly integrated into a interactive news site.

    If you want to see actual news films shot with the camera shown on this blog – click on my URL.

  3. Ryan, All video should be served through a Flash player. I’m not saying Flash infographics or story telling doesn’t have its place, but when resources are limited, video is a better bet. Or to put another way, if you’re not rocking and rolling on video yet, do that before you invest in Flash.

    Robb, check out — a good portion of the video is shot with point-and-shoot cameras. More and more, they are editing (in this case, I’m defining that as something more involved than a one-stream clip). One-stream clips can be shot and posted in minutes, not hours.

    Like anything new, training is important. When I’m training, minimum requirements are 1) Pay attention to lighting; 2) Pay attention to background; 3) Pay attention to background noise; 4) Frame your shots well; 5) Watch what you say while shooting (best not to vocalize at all); 6) As a good question that will elicit an interesting response (if it’s an interview type of situation).

    There are times, however, where you’ve got to get the news — just point and shoot and hope for the best. That’s a more on-the-fly type of situation.

  4. John, given the unsubstantiated nature of your comment, I’m not surprised you choose to remain anonymous.

    But, um, I’ve written that check before.

    And I bet you I’ll write it again, and again.

  5. […] Following up on some reading I did today (Howard Owens and Angela Grant, to name just two), I think there’s an important distinction that needs to be made in what we’re trying to do here at the CICM: helping journalists move online versus making online journalists. We’re here to help journalists succeed in an online, engaged, community-oriented world. For some journalists, that will mean becoming “online journalists.” That’s why I read weblogs by Mindy McAdams, Howard Owens, Steve Yelvington, Adrian Holovaty, Will Sullivan and the like: because they are online journalists. […]

  6. That Panasonic is a great combination of quality, small size and light weight, and its wide-angle Leica lens supports the first (only?) photojournalism rule I ever learned: “Get closer.”

    But even an older Canon Elph (under $150 used) can do surprisingly good-enough sound & pictures for some online uses — and in “portrait” format if you want.

    Instead of (or in addition to) buying a pile of cameras, how about an in-house class for “verbal” reporters on recognizing when video could contribute to a story? Also, framing a picture, shooting digital video and playing “what if” — all using whatever little cameras they already have (or can afford to put) in their bag or pocket. The realities of juggling a notebook and camera — and working with the word and picture parts of the brain — are worth another course, and a lot of trial and error.

    Any pointers on those issues would be terrific…

    Bob in Knoxville

  7. Bob, that’s incredible video for a small, cheap camera. I’ve found with my CyberShot is has pretty limited range … too much light, or too much dark and quality degrades pretty quickly.

    At some point, I’ll do my own best practices type of post. I need more direct experience doing instead of just telling people to do … to write that post.

  8. […] I think our disagreement is somewhat related to the Flash vs. Video debate of a couple of weeks ago. Since it’s my blog, I get to frame the debate a little bit (kind of hard not to do if I’m going to write about it), and how I see it is an argument over the definition of quality, and an argument over whether we respond to the audience or make some sort of journalistic ideal of quality paramount to what people seem to respond to. […]

  9. […] It also reminds me of what I said before about not buying a lot of expensive equipment — instead, outfit your newsroom with point-and-shoots … and use the left over money to arm local people with cameras. In other words, don’t loan the cameras — give them away … they’re cheap enough and enough will fall into the right hands that you’ll get some good stuff regularly. 9. Mix up professional and citizen reporting […]

  10. […] I’ve got to heartily but respectfully disagree with a post on about Flash and video for newspaper sites. It sounds like he’s saying to just forget about multimedia packages using Flash, and instead just train people to only shoot video. […]

  11. […] Going back to another memory, I think of the first post I ever did encouraging newsrooms to equip reporters with point-and-shoot cameras. It was comical the level of hostility my old posts aroused among many otherwise level-headed journalists.  I’ve gotten pretty hot under the collar writing about this topic, as have others.  But the bottom line is, it still doesn’t make sense for newsrooms to get a case of GAS. […]

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